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A First Rate Smartphone for Cheap? Finally!

The process of buying a cell phone can be daunting. There are so many different phones, carriers, features, and price levels it is difficult to decide. Regardless of the decision it seems that they are all extremely expensive. Unfortunately, as of 2013 there is no such thing as a great phone on a great carrier for a great price. One must compromise on something.


Cell phone nirvana exists in the white triangle in the middle of this Venn diagram. For each circle, the distance ventured out from the middle is the level of compromise. A phone like the iPhone on Verizon is an excellent choice for Phone and Service, but is weak on Price. A Galaxy S II on Boost Mobile is a fair phone with good service (uses Sprint’s network), but is excellent on price. Each year we keep getting a little closer to that white triangle. Perhaps Google and T-Mobile are now the closest for Triangle customers.

On November 13 Google released the Nexus 4 phone. It is one of the more interesting choices out there, especially for those wanting to save money. It is a first rate phone that runs the “pure Google” Android 4.2 operating system. Because the phone is Google’s, there is no skin added by companies such as HTC, Motorola, etc. It is carrier-independent, too, so it will get OS updates without having to go through the painstaking process of carrier approval (you listening, Verizon customers?). The Nexus 4 is available with no contract, which adds much freedom to customers.

Nexus4_phone The phone is fantastic. Call quality is excellent, the processor is extremely snappy, the camera is outstanding, and the screen is better than the eye can detect. My only complaint is the volume level of the headphone output, which is too low. The phone is a GSM phone which allows for worldwide travel, however it will only connect to T-Mobile and AT&T’s networks in the USA. The phone does not have LTE, but does use T-Mobile’s HSPA+42, which is more than capable and is available in over 160 markets by T-Mobile at the time of writing.

The T-Mobile service is fair to good on this phone. I have gotten data speeds such as 18000kbps down and 1100kbps up from the lower level of a full Dean Dome and a full Kenan Stadium. (Our Verizon service had no connection at these times). So because there are so few T-Mobile customers, I am not constrained by large crowds. Also these are speeds that more than satisfy my needs (moderate music and video streaming)

speedtest I am constrained, however, by two factors: large buildings and extreme rural areas. The service is fine inside of Crabtree Mall, Southpoint Mall, and the PNC Arena. However the service is spotty in some restaurants and grocery stores (like the HT in North Hills). I have had no problems in any Home Depot, Lowe’s, or BJs, though, so my system of referring to perpetual shopping list notes in Evernote still works well.

When I drove to Garland, NC to visit the Brooks Brothers outlet (a must see, BTW), I lost all connectivity for a 5 mile stretch just southeast of Clinton. I have no T-Mobile connectivity in the lower level of my house, but I have good connectivity in the upstairs.

I’ve owned the phone for two months and it’s been an interesting discovery process. With the presence of public Wi-Fi networks growing nicely in retail and restaurant locations in the Triangle, I rarely encounter places with no options for service. I am concerned, though, about being stranded in the country while driving. All phone choices have a level of compromise and rural connectivity is the main one with this option.

Price is a huge advantage with the Nexus 4 on T-Mobile’s prepaid plan. The special plan (aka “ The WalMart Plan ”) costs just $30/month and offers unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 100 minutes of talk time. Additional talk minutes are 10-cents each. The data speed is throttled once the user surpasses the 5GB download limit per month.

I generally average about 110 mins of talk time per month, so the service is costing me just $31 per month. My wife is a big cellular talker, but even with her talk minutes, she would average only $45 per month on this plan. That  leaves us with the device’s price . Google offers the 8 GB model for $300 and the 16GB model for $350. I strongly advise getting the 16GB model, as 8GB is way too little storage to handle most people’s camera and audio needs. That is an unlocked, contract-free, first-rate phone for $350 on a $30/month plan! Because the phone comes “unlocked”, it can easily be resold. If you aren’t satisfied you can turn around and easily sell the phone on eBay and just quit paying for the service at any time. Wow.

In order to compare this option to popular options, let’s consider the 2-year costs of owning top-level devices on the four major carriers with an individual plan providing at least 2GB of data usage per month:

16GB Phone Model Service Minutes Data Texts Monthly 2yr Total
iPhone 5/Galaxy S3
($200, 2yr contract)
Verizon unlim 2GB unlim $100 $2,600
iPhone 5/Galaxy S3
($200, 2yr contract)
AT&T 450 3GB unlim $70 $1,880
iPhone 5/Galaxy S3
($200, 2yr contract)
Sprint 450 unlim unlim $80* $2,120
Nexus 4
($350, no contract)
T-Mobile 100 unlim unlim $30 $1,070

* According to the “Everything Data” plan

Of the four choices, the Nexus 4 on T-Mobile option is by far the cheapest, but users sacrifice coverage in rural areas and some indoor places, and support for defective devices is reportedly not good. Verizon is by far the most expensive option, however they have the best coverage and the best service. AT&T and Sprint offer good service and good coverage at an average price. Purchasing a cell phone these days can be daunting. Customers are faced with many unknowns and very high costs for the most part. With the Nexus 4 on a month-to-month plan, there is finally a way to get a first-rate device in Raleigh without breaking the bank.


Roku Adding Time Warner Cable Support

roku2_paired The biggest CES news so far for Raleigh residents (pdf) came from Roku today. In 2013 Roku’s current models will add a Time Warner Cable app which will bring up to 300 TWC channels to the box. Models offering this support are all Roku 2s, Roku HD, Roku LT, and the Roku Streaming Stick.

This is certainly big news for those who feel stymied by Time Warner’s in-home equipment. No news about which channels will be offered, how any DVR functionality will work, or when the service will be rolled out to specific markets, though. Stay tuned!


30 Predictions for 2013

Happy New Year, everyone! 2012 was an fascinating year, with the Olympics, the Election, and a little bit of economic traction, the year turned out to be more interesting than expected. With the close of the year, it’s time to pull out the old crystal acorn and make a few quick predictions (30 to be exact) for the upcoming year. (Don’t take these to the bank, though! If this thing were any good, I’d be in Vegas with it.)

  • Publix will begin construction on their first Triangle store…in Cary in the Davis/54 area.
  • Publix will pick Creedmoor/Millbrook for their first Raleigh store location. The new owners of Falls Village will make a strong play for Publix, offering to raze half of their center to accommodate a large grocery store.
  • Raleigh will begin discussions to tear down Memorial Auditorium – with the dominant bookings of the DPAC, Raleigh people are increasingly irked by having to go to Durham for so many good events. Leaders in Raleigh will talk about removing the center section of the performing arts complex and replacing it with a stacked, 3-tier facility to compete with the DPAC.
  • Violence will be an increasing problem in Glenwood South, and patrons will start seeking another focus for nightlife, most likely in…the Hillsborough Street area, which will be the next wave of downtown revitalization.
  • Orvis will close in Triangle Town Center and seek space in a part of the Triangle where their patrons actually live. Perhaps Kidd’s Hill behind Crabtree?
  • Development of both Kidd’s Kill properties will finally begin, but the Soleil Center/Westin land will remain an empty lot.
  • A new mall will be announced for the I-40/42/70/540 area between Clayton and Fuquay. It will focus on serving the Johnston County market.
  • Best Buy will close at least one Triangle location. My bet is the newest store, Brier Creek.
  • Between Liles, The Varsity, and Nowells, Raleigh will only support two, and one will close.
  • As brick & mortar retail continues to struggle, Crabtree will add another restaurant in its mall proper
  • While Washington policy will grow much more liberal than we’ve seen in the previous 4 years (increasingly hostile fiscal policies toward the wealthy, increased spending on social programs, and a stark increase in liberal social policies and transit expenditures), North Carolina policy will become more conservative, but not by much. In the next four years issues like Gay Marriage, Legalization of Pot, and Gun Control will stay put in this state, unless there is federal mandate…
  • …The Supreme Court will rule that Gay Marriage must be recognized by all states, and Federal Legislation implementing more stringent gun control will override North Carolina’s stance.
  • North Carolina will get an increased amount of funding for transit (regional “high” speed and local light rail), but the State of North Carolina will decrease expenditures in these areas, and no real progress will occur in the next four years, especially with light rail.
  • Raleigh will continue its oppressive assault on drivers in neighborhoods by reducing the speed limit on Glen Eden to 25 mph. They will also erect more of those contrived islands meant to annoy and slow drivers.
  • UNC and NCSU will field bubble teams in football, once again, that will get absolutely no national attention.
  • If the NHL season is cancelled, Backyard Bistro will close.
  • T-Mobile will be bought by one of the other carriers, most likely AT&T, reducing the number of carrier networks to three in the Triangle.
  • Free Wifi will be everywhere by the end of the year. In the malls, the restaurants, and in grocery stores. Most importantly, I predict that free wifi for every fan in the building will be implemented in the PNC Arena. (yay!)
  • The number of restaurants with tablet menus will grow quickly. In fact, only cheap or snobby restaurants will be without a tablet presence by the end of 2013.
  • Buca di Beppo will announce their first Raleigh/Cary location
  • PDQ will announce two more locations. One in the Southpoint area and one in Cary.
  • One of downtown Raleigh’s Indian restaurants will close. Will it be Blue Mango or Mantra that survives?
  • BJ’s Brewhouse will announce their first North Carolina locations – on in Charlotte, one in Cary.
  • The next big culinary ethnicity, after Mexican starts to fade, will be South American. Restaurants like Machupicchu and Guasaca will have excellent years, but will see more competition, too, especially in the casual dining space.
  • Guacamole variations will be the next trend within the Mexican food space
  • The IHOP on Hillsborough Street will close, but will be replaced in 2014 by a mixed use apartment building that will have street level retail, including a new IHOP. (This is a planned project. The prediction is that execution will begin this year)
  • The Triangle will be selected as the site for filming a nationally prominent movie.
  • No significant changes to Raleigh’s skyline will be introduced in 2013.
  • A MakerBot-like 3D printing business will open in Raleigh, allowing people to create functional and artistic plastic items just-in-time.
  • Here’s the big one: 2013 will be the Year of Durham, and the crowning moment will be an announcement by Google that their second Google Fiber city will be…Durham.

Sprint Bringing LTE to Raleigh

sprint-lte Today Sprint announced the coming rollout of LTE (“4G”) service in the Raleigh and Cary area. The service which is now in 49 markets, means:

  • Faster data speeds that enable instant Web access for news updates, HD viewing and game-playing, quicker video downloads and clear video chats.
  • Better signal strength when making a call or using the Web.
  • Fewer dropped calls for peace of mind when talking to friends, family or colleagues.
  • Improved voice quality and less static or background noise when making phone calls.

Unfortuantely the announcement comes as a simple teaser, with no specific dates, and probably serves simply as a placeholder to those whose contracts expire soon. For more information as this story develops, follow Sprint’s coverage section.


Major League Gaming Returning to Raleigh

Venue Spectator Pass: MLG Raleigh Summer Championship On the weekend of August 24, the world’s largest competitive video game league will return to the Raleigh Convention Center. Competing for more than $175,000, the world’s best gamers will competed in the MLG Summer Championship . Gamers will compete at StarCraft II, League of Legends, Mortal Kombat, and Soul Calibur V.

For those not attending in person, the weekend competition will be broadcast live online at www.majorleaguegaming.com beginning August 24 at 5pm ET. Fans can watch standard definition for free or purchase passes to watch ad-free in HD , have access to additional content, and DVR functionality.

Spectator passes for the weekend are $35.


Verizon Launching LTE on July 21

LTE_logo There is good news for Verizon customers seeking the next level of wireless connectivity. On July 21 Verizon’s LTE will go active in the Triangle area. This includes Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Apex, Clayton, Morrisville, Chapel Hil, Carrboro, Gorman, Wake Forest, Rolesville, Knightdale, Wendell, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Garner and Smithfield. The company expects average data rates in real-world, loaded network environments to be 5 to 12 megabits per second (Mbps) on the downlink and 2 to 5 Mbps on the uplink.

Of course, this comes on the heels of yesterday’s news about tiered data pricing Verizon will roll out on July 7. Those plans are rumored to offer 2GB/mo for $30, 5GB/mo for $50, and 10GB/mo for $80.

Therefore, if your are interested in getting an LTE phone on Verizon (like the Samsung Droid Charge, the HTC Thunderbolt, and the LG Revolution), it might be wise to make a move soon.

If you are interested in a new Android phone, you can always check out gogoraleigh’s Ultimate U.S. Android Phone Spreadsheet . It sorts out the carrier and pricing information for 44 Android phones that are either currently or soon-to-be available.


Murph Named Engadget Managing Editor

engadgetlogo Congratulations to Raleigh-area resident Darren Murph, who was announced today as the new Managing Editor at Engadget.com . If you read Engadget, surely you are familiar with one of Murph’s 17,000 blog entries, as he holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ record as the most prolific blogger .

Murph’s transition into Managing Editor, along with Tim Stevens’ new role as Editor-in-Chief, comes after a large series of transitions at Engadget this year. In early February AOL, Engadget’s parent company, purchased the Huffington Post, and has executed a massive reorganization that resulted in the departures of several Engadget personalities. However a new day means a new era, and Stevens and Murph have a full cupboard and numerous opportunities at their disposal. Hopefully Murph’s more prominent role on the site and the engadget podcast will mean better exposure for the RTP area in the San Francisco heavy world of tech journalism. This could get very interesting…


Ford Explorer Coming to City Plaza

At Noon on Tuesday (10/26) Craig Patterson, Explorer Marketing Manager for Ford will be in Raleigh’s City Plaza to unveil the 2011 Ford Explorer. The reinvented car no longer sits on a truck chassis, and features the world’s first inflatable seatbealts and 30% better fuel efficiency.

All of that is nice, but what is really worth checking out is the latest generation of the phenomenal Ford Sync system, called MyFord Touch. The new version continues Sync’s fantastic bluetooth connectivity for phone and audio, and expands the abilities of navigation and climate control. Two new features include turning the car into a WiFi hotspot and iTunes tagging support from the HD radio. There is also support for USB keyboards, RSS feeds, an additional USB socket, an SD Card slot, enhanced podcast support, and more. For more information, see Mashable’s excellent writeup of MyFord Touch, as did Joelfeder.com .

Clearly the next battleground for car makers is on the dashboard, and Ford has the early lead here. Be sure to take this opportunity to see what is going on in this space.


Plug-In Hybrid Conference Picks Raleigh

plugin11 The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) recently announced that Plug-In 2011 – an international conference of expert insights on technical advances, market research and policy initiatives shaping the future of plug-in hybrid and electric transportation – will be held in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, July 18-21, 2011.

The Raleigh Convention Center will be the first venue for the Plug-In Conference that will be held outside of California. The shift in location was envisioned as a way to offer wider access to potential attendees. Next year’s conference will be co-organized by EPRI, Progress Energy and Duke Energy.

“We decided to offer a bit of geographical balance to our conference schedule as a way of exposing more people to the significant progress made toward integrating plug-in hybrid and other electric vehicles into the transportation system,” said Mark Duvall, director of Electric Transportation at EPRI. “The Research Triangle area is an appropriate location that is well-known as an incubator of entrepreneurship, innovation and thought-leadership.”

The Plug-In Conference was launched in San Jose in 2008, moved to Long Beach (Southern California) in 2009 and returned to San Jose this year. It attracts automotive manufacturers, component suppliers, electric utilities, government agencies, the environmental community and academia to exchange ideas and gather information needed to make key decisions related to plug-in hybrid and electric transportation.

Plug-In 2010 includes high-level plenary sessions and 21 breakout sessions and mini-panels focused on driving, connecting and launching technologies required to fully commercialize and integrate electric drive into the marketplace.

The exposition floor, which includes vehicles, electric infrastructure and batteries, and related components, features more than 40 exhibitors. July 27 is Public Night, an open forum where visitors can see the exposition floor and participate in a panel discussion. For more information about Plug-In 2010, organized by EPRI and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, visit www.plugin2010.com .

(and don’t go squatting plugin2011.com just because this group hasn’t gotten the wherewithal to buy it yet!)


Evernote Meetup Planned for Next Week

evernote It’s easy to fall in love with Evernote , the cloud-based note organizer. There is a desktop application as well as a slew of mobile apps for entering and quickly finding notes one has made. Use-cases include corralling perpetual shopping lists for certain stores (ie. Home Depot, Grocer, Office Depot, Costco…), lists for CDs to hear, movies to see, shows to watch, wines you loved, as well as a perfect clipper/organizer for recipes.

The list of use-cases goes on. That’s why some Evernote fans in the area are organizing a meetup on Wednesday, June 23 at the Tribeca Tavern where even more use-cases can be bounced around. More information is online as well as on Twitter (#CaryEvernoteMeetup hashtag). Please signup today so that the group can get an organizer party pack from Evernote.


EVO Hits Today

sprint-htc-evo-4g The HTC EVO went on sale this morning. The phone, only available on Sprint, is the latest Android phone that trumps the iPhone (for now at least). Along with having a replaceable battery, a free range of apps, a decent carrier network, the possibility of Flash support soon, freedom from iTunes, multitasking, a kickstand, “unlimited” data, desktop widgets, miniSD memory expansion, the ability to mount as a drive, video chat, tethering, and multi-notifications, this phone runs on the 4G data network. The network is reported to be 8X-10X faster than 3G. Some tech reporters, in fact, are saying that now is the time for people to consider dropping their land data lines and going to a tethered 4G phone instead.

4G service is only available in 33 cities. New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, Miami, Denver, and Pittsburgh are among the cities that don’t have coverage, but Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill do! The full list of included cities is after the break:

read more…


N.C. State Grad Loses iPhone 4G

Blogs have been on fire this week about the lost and found prototype for the next generation iPhone. Gizmodo posted the background story about the N.C. State grad who apparently lost the top-secret device in a bar on his birthday, and how they obtained it. How embarrassing. What will be interesting to see is if this disappointing, clunky, industrial design is, in fact, the final form factor. (BTW, just how many Gray Powells are running around this town? I think this is the 4th one I’ve encountered.)


WRAL iPhone App Goes 2.0

WRALapp WRAL has just released version 2.0 of their free substitute browser on the iPhone . The new version allows readers to forward stories to Facebook, Twitter, email, and SMS. It also features a tiny current weather in the upper right, so there is no need for one on the lower menu bar any more. The update also allows one to skip to the next story while viewing an individual article.

A long-awaited feature is the ability to lock/unlock rotation. It is hidden in More | Settings. I’m not sure if this is new in 2.0, per se. While it is nice to have the ability to change rotation, it still is not what I suggested. I’d like to see WRAL’s app behave like Safari where it rotates for three orientations, but does not the phone’s top side is down. Safari’s configuration is the best when lying in best, to be honest.

Finally a word of warning; this app is very crashy (even more than normal iPhone apps!). The majority of the time that I skip to the next story the app crashes. Several times it crashed when jumping in and out of news sections. Unless you are incredibly excited about the sharing features, I’d wait until 2.1.

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